If I had a time machine I know the exact moment I would go back to—a breezy fall day in 1997 in the stairway of Ramsey Junior High School in Saint Paul, MN. There I would find the world’s worst perpetrator with a bowl-cut and a backpack. A young teenaged kid wearing—horrors!—a Nike sweatshirt with Adidas wind-pants.
I had unknowingly committed a mortal sin, just above blasphemy of the holy spirit I believe, by wearing two different name brands on the same day. I wished the devil would just take me right then and there to the fiery hell I deserved. It seemed better than the tortuous words coming from my fellow 8th grade classmates.
In that moment my 2014 self would walk over, lay a hand on my sagging shoulder and whisper: it doesn’t matter.
You might wonder why, with the entire age of the world at my fingertips to explore I would choose to enter this seemingly insubstantial moment in time. Here I was just a kid with a wardrobe choice. But it was more than that. They were the clothes that made me happy. Made me comfortable. Made me feel like…“me.”
In that moment of ridicule the value of my own personhood was being called into question and it made me immediately reel with self-doubt, shame and apprehension.
Every young person has these moments. It might not be the clothes on your back but instead your choice of college. Or what you want to study. Or even the moves you show on the dance floor.
How you choose to live—whether in the shadow of others’ approval or in the freeing light of your passions—affects everything else in your life.
Oh young people of the world! I’ve seen you stand at the crossroads of these choices, seen you labor over them, bleed over them, weep over them. Seen you allow others to stand in command over your decisions and actions and movements, seen you held in that tortuous position where you never know when the hammer is going to drop.
And drop it will. Others can be so cruel in response to your dreams, especially in those first steps. That time in your youth when you venture timidly out from the camp of conformity into uncharted forests with rescue ropes of gossamer still tied to the approval of others. When that frailty is oh so gently tested you suddenly find yourself cut loose, and tumbling, flailing out of the circle of approval, you trip out into the wild away from the warmly lit ring of acceptance.
In that moment, don’t turn back to the safe circle of dying embers. Dare instead to forge a new path.
You’ve been conditioned through those agonizing years of adolescence to believe that each little shoe strap, every wisp of hair, each angle of your “duck” lips is going to be picked apart, stared at, and scrutinized. You’ve learned to take the safe route, to check your dreams, to process your decisions in the mill of conformity and approval.
And how could you not? It’s everywhere from red carpet walks to pop up cosmetic shops to scrolls of comments in Facebook newsfeeds. You’re told to choose your fashion with the eye of a trend-setter, to always check the reactions to your choices, to hover in a constant state of FOMO—the fear of missing out.
You stall in these moments because time only moves one direction and somehow the world has convinced you that the peak of all creation is now.
The trials and doubts and questions you find yourself in today are not the culmination of every past moment of your life. This moment is always a new beginning. An umpteenth chance. A fresh page to start writing a new story. This moment is always the start of everything else, and what follows is up to you.
Dear friends—there is so much beyond junior high. There is so much beyond high school. There is so much to life after university!
So many go through it thinking there must be a best plan, a single track to follow and if it gets derailed every future moment will be lived out in a second rate life, or worse.
Here’s the secret: There’s no plan A. There’s no best option. Life is not built upon first place finishes but on second chances. Life need not follow someone else’s perfect vision. It’s your eyes in your head, your head on your shoulders and your call as to which way they travel.
For it’s not the approval that matters and not the path, but your love for what you do and the passion by which you do it.
What passions will you let break free? What makes you come alive?